JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African mining firms say plans by government to charge them two-thirds of the cost for treating water pollution resulting from their operations are unfair and would put the ailing industry under further financial strain.
South Africa, one of the world’s biggest metals producers, has been hit by a slide in commodities prices that has come on top of widespread labour unrest among miners. Mining output in May plunged by 18 percent, the most on record.
“Any further financial pressures would certainly threaten the sustainability of the industry,” said the South African Chamber of Mines’s executive for environment, Nikisi Lesufi.
Lesufi said the chamber also opposed the levy because mining companies had adhered to the laws and regulations that were in place at the time.
“It is the industry’s view that AMD legacy issues are the responsibility of the state,” Lesufi said, adding that it could not comment on the design and implementation of the levy because had not been privy to the department’s plans.
Acid mine drainage (AMD) results from the outflow of acidic water from mines, and often affected water supplies develop pH levels similar to those of battery acid, rendering the water harmful to humans as well animal and plant life.
South Africa’s water ministry on Wednesday said it would charge mining firms 67 percent of the cost for treating polluted water emanating from their century-long operations in Johannesburg’s mining belt.
Water is already scarce in South Africa, which is in the midst of its worst drought in over 100 years as an El-Nino weather pattern has caused rainfall levels to plummet.
Water Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said the cost to government would be 600 million rand ($38 million) a year, and that government would cover the anticipated recoveries from the mining sector prior to the implementation of the policy.
“It will be difficult for government to find mines still standing that can pay this proposed AMD levy. Many have simply closed down,” said professor of governance at Wits University Mike Muller.
“The rehabilitation funds that should have provided for these costs have also often largely disappeared with very little accountability.”
Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by James Macharia and David Evans